What Is Innovation in Content Marketing? 4 Steps to Finding the Answer
Marketing Content Strategy

What Is Innovation in Content Marketing? 4 Steps to Finding the Answer

What is innovation, from a content marketing perspective?

Humans are creatures of habit. We gravitate toward the new and novel. Internet statistics back this up: People visit the same number of websites every day, usually an average of 10. But we only go back if we find fresh, hyper-relevant content every time.

This tension presents a fascinating dilemma for content marketers: How do we create content that earns us the right to become a daily habit for our target consumer?

Many are attempting the challenge. Stats show that 86 percent of B2B marketers already use content marketing, and 55 percent will increase their marketing technology spend in 2015. But with Web, social media, and television content catapulting 3,000 brand messages a day at the average consumer, there’s a lot that’s not working. People have begun to tune marketers out.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

I’m not saying anything new. It’s time for an innovative approach. Marketers know this, and it freaks a lot of them out. I see that over and over when I talk to them every day.

Most of what used to work simply doesn’t anymore. Brands see less than 0.1 percent click-through rates on banner advertising. Over four million people register complaints against telemarketers. New tools demand new skill sets, which may explain why half of CIOs and CMOs say they don’t trust current management with the intersection of marketing technology.

Innovation is now a survival tactic. But what is innovation? Is it luck, or does it comprise repeatable components? Regardless, it can be intimidating for the content marketer. Are you part of the paralyzed pack, or forging ahead on the fumes of incredible opportunity?

To be honest, it’s probably best to ignore that question. Take your mark, get set, and use these four pieces of advice to figure it out as you go:

1. Start Small

To many, innovation conjures up grandiose ideas akin to solving world hunger—especially when your manager or director is breathing down your neck. But as studies increasingly show, innovation looks boring up close. Simplicity is often what sells best.

Here’s what many don’t realize: Most disruptive game changers reflect the final product of an idea that’s evolved over time. So, as it relates to content marketing, try coming up with bite-size, incremental ideas that drive the current thinking forward a little, such as:

  • Inviting guests to byline content on your site. What if your brand dealt in the fresh ideas that buyers crave, but didn’t have to come up with all of them on its own? That’s content currency.
  • Publishing interviews with thought leaders outside your brand. This approach deepens relationships with the experts in your network and builds content socially into the DNA of your strategy. Double win.
  • Activating advocates and influencers to publish content for you, whether via guest byline or on your branded site. If the latter, you get the brand cred, and you are able to control the SEO, linking, and conversion strategies. In a world of mass marketing, executives instinctively trust their peers and established networks. Tap into that.

Innovation happens when you lower the pressure, start your creative process, and captivate. Awareness and interest drive engagement, which converts.

2. Fail

Welcome to the other side of the innovation yin and yang. Eventually, even the most successful products fail because a better idea comes along. (iPhone 4, anyone?)

Innovation has risks, sure. You might lose income, fall short of a dream, or lose stakeholder trust—an increasingly common problem, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. But what if the fear motivated you? That’s a question of perspective: Do you obsess over what you have to lose, or what you have to gain?

For example, imagine you rallied internal stakeholders across your enterprise to share their unique subject matter expertise as it relates to one big idea—say collaboration, intrapreneurship, or efficiency. In the early days, you might find it difficult to get contributors to meet their deadlines or adhere to content quality standards.

You could let that “failure” discourage you, or be inspired to create internal content standards and formalized trainings; determine an editorial calendar yourself, allowing contributors to claim topics to write about; and pair those experts with journalists who can ghostwrite their content.

Risk and reward have been married for centuries, and divorce isn’t anywhere on the horizon. Innovation is a process where, if you insist on it, the failure loop always closes.

3. Fail Again

The more often you fail, the more prone you are to recognize patterns within your failures. When it comes to content strategy, this may be why many have up-leveled art for science, achieving many innovative ends, such as:

  • Conducting competitive analysis and overlapping results with trends research and social listening to devise strategy.
  • Recruiting and training a dedicated team of subject matter experts to create content.
  • Closing the content feedback loop with predefined key performance indicators (KPIs) and a predictable schedule for observing and tweaking results to improve them.

To show you what I mean, consider this painting:

Content marketers can learn from this photo that innovation often looks messy at first.

I first attempted this painting in the hopes of exploring and understanding one simple concept. I can’t say it really worked. I mean, look at the madness! But what I learned from this failed attempt at creative innovation is that chaos is often the first product of creativity. That can be frustrating, especially at first. (It was for me.) But it was a productive failure because it showed me what I wanted to change.

Innovation means a continued cycle of persisting and simplifying. Just as simplicity sells, true innovation is almost invisible—even in content marketing.

4. Then, Fail Less

As humans, we tend to go to unnecessary extremes. What if you prioritized calculated risk? According to experts, this is where most progress happens, whether it’s a proven methodology like the Rapid Innovation Cycle, which structures innovation into four steps, or a series of market analysis questions to analyze opportunity.

If you’re following a process and changing it while you monitor it, you’re getting somewhere. Try asking yourself:

  • Audience: Who are you trying to talk to? What do they care about, both on the clock and at home? (At least half of today’s C-level IT buyers conduct searches in bed at home.)
  • Influence Networks: How can you reach them? Which networks are influential? What are your buyers’ unique content consumption habits?
  • Themes and Topics of Interest: Which themes emerge over and over? How do those topics align with your brand?
  • Consistency: How can you tell that story creatively? Who can tell the story for you?

Here is my next attempt at the above painting:

I didn

I gotta say, I like it much better—probably because it’s simpler. And that is something that was only possible for me as an artist because I learned from what I’d done and didn’t like before.

Innovation means missing the mark over and over, but knowing you’ll get closer the next time you try.

What Is Innovation, Then?

So, what does innovation mean for you this year? Can you innovate faster and set yourself up for success? Yes. These three questions might be helpful as you consider how to step it up:

  • Whose new perspective can I explore? Sit with random people in your company who do something totally different from you. Interview them. Find out the coolest untold stories in your company.
  • What crazy, cool thing would I do if I weren’t afraid? You might try seeking out peers and mentors to hold you accountable here.
  • What could happen if I did? Think about what you stand to win.

There’s one question I love most of all. Sit with it:

What if?

For more tips and stories on the science of productivity, leadership, innovation, transformation, and creativity, subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter.

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Caitlin Roberson is an award-winning, California-based content marketer, specializing in creating powerful stories that sell for tech enterprise companies like Google and LinkedIn. Her work, including three ghost-written books, has appeared in the SF Chronicle, Huffington Post, TIME Magazine, and others. Caitlin brings saas to the SaaS world, and snaps up decision makers' attention, particularly in the business-to-business world. It's amazing what happens when you speak to professionals like they're people.

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